Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Men and women

I was particularly interested in the Kilbourne article about women this week. It got me thinking a lot about advertising, since it discussed women and advertising a lot, and I wanted to share another example of an advertisement that portrays men and women differently. In the article Kilbourne gives several examples of advertisements geared towards women, and a few about how these ads differently portray men and women, especially when it comes to weight loss.


This link is another example of how women and men are differently portrayed and how weight loss is seen as essential for women and not men in most cases.

Response to Chad's Question

After reviewing all of the posts, I have to say that I really liked the question that Chad posted..."Are there any changes to the chronological changes of media representation in a networked age?" However, I am going to disagree with Chad a bit and argue that there have been changes.  While I could in many ways support the claim that there have been no changes, I have to say that our shift into a networked age has blurred the lines significantly.  I argue that Clark's (69) four chronological stages no longer exist in the way presented.  There is no chronological progression (perhaps never was, but that is another argument for another day), and the lines between ridicule, regulation, and respect have been so blurred that it is nearly impossible to say that we as a society are in a specific stage.  Yes, mis-representations of homosexuality, obesity, and the "ideal" individual are rampant; but I am not quite willing to sacrifice our agency as individuals and as a collective culture to media representations.

For example, Hart speaks of the progress that has been made (and the progress yet to be made) of homosexual representations on television; but when one places these shows in the context of the early to mid 90's it is commendable that the debate was furthered through these representations.  In a remarkably short time we went from the Stonewall protests of 1969, to the conspicuous absence of Reagan discourse concerning the AIDS epidemic of the 80's, to the Mary Fisher speech at the 1992 RNC convention, to open media representations in the late 90's.

And while I feel the issue of homosexuality is one that is easy to gravitate towards, it is often forgotten that Married...With Children was a pioneer in television as one of the first sitcoms to employ a nearly all female writing staff.

Essentially, while it is impossible to argue with comments like Kilbourne's that "mass communication has made possible a kind of national peer pressure that erodes private and individual standards, as well as community values and standards" (258); I feel that it is our ability as a society simultaneously recognize, ridicule, and respect that prevents society from flushing down the metaphorical toilet.  The debate over episodes like South Park's "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" allows many to be exposed to homosexuality for the first time, in a way that both respects and ridicules aspects of our reality.

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Don't Panic"

"Don't Panic" is excellent advice. What I have noticed about the recent trend in "News" is the emotional appeal that it is creating to sell itself. Like advertising, news networks seem to pray on the emotional aspects of stories; and have focused particularly on the personal aspect, often answering the question: what does this mean to you? This has become increasingly apparent as we focus on the price of oil and how it is affecting our economy, which has been the final focus of every report I have heard about the Libya revolution and Japan. Worse still, much of the focus on the Nuclear Disaster has been on the possibility of nuclear fallout reaching the U.S., and even trace amounts of radiation exposure makes big news. Even though many of these reports are coupled with statements about minimal the exposure actually is, people are still worried.

My point is that the news appears to be falling in to the same type of personal emotional appeals that advertising is being criticized for. This is probably a much bigger problem, because the news is usually presented as a much more trustworthy source of information than advertising, and the most emotional high pieces of the story, such as radioactive dust, usually far overshadows the details, like the minimal quantities. The headline gets lots of attention, and even though a close reading of the articles says "Don't Panic," the headline says "Panic." Headlines like "Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level?" should also advise people to make sure they know where their towel is, such a simple statement is sure to be ignored by the masses who have already panicked about the sea level.

If there is any doubt, how many people immediately noticed the link? Isn' this a type of emotional imagery, where I try to gain readership by using something bold that stands out and causes an emotional concern? The headline might not be a new construct, isn't this almost, but not entirely, unlike Jhally's emotionally charged images?

Rejecting materialism-say it isn't so!

Starting on page 79 of Sut Jhally's "Imaged-Based Culture," Jhally notes how in a market society, advertisers link happiness to what can be bought in the marketplace. However, people link happiness to their social life. This creates an environment where people are increasingly unhappy and unsatisfied. When we are continually shown images of materialistic things, even when advertisers try to connect the product with an emotional/intangible benefit, there is still that idea that you can never be happy because you can never have it all.

This article provides an interesting look at a couple who rejected their old materialistic ways in favor of a more simplistic life with only 100 possessions. In the interview, the wife talks about how she was making $40k annually on the "work-spend treadmill," which was very unsatisfying. She then quit her job, donated most of her possessions and began working on her own business as a freelance writer/designer. The article also notes that perhaps the couple is part of a "major shift in the nation's consumption patterns."

Could this become a more widespread movement, or since the economy seems to be picking up, are people headed back to a make-spend, make-spend way of life?


The Removal of the Question "Why?"

What I found most fascinating about Sut Jhally's analysis of image-based culture was the discussion on how advertisements have become less and less reliant on text and narrative to justifying consumer need. Jhally argues that previous to the establishment of our consumer culture, marketers and advertisers needed to establish sophisticated justifications for the consumption of nonessential items. Thus, advertisements were a combination of written and visual material which literally taught society "how to read the commercial messages" (Jhally 78). Currently, consumption has become so natural to our social and political existence that the need to justify production and consumption has dropped considerably as is reflected in the advertisements themselves. The "infomercial" or 30 second spot seems rather antiquated. Instead, contemporary advertisements operate enthymematically by assuming that audiences members are already inculcated with the desire to purchase and the belief that the marketplace is the principle source of satisfaction. Jhally describes this strategy as the "vignette approach" where the reasons to consume are "subsumed under a rapid succession of life-style images [...] that directly sell feeling and emotion rather than products" (84). This allows ads to be so incredibly truncated that we almost don't recognize when we are being sold something. As Jhally correctly points out, the image-based culture is not likely to fade any time soon so what do you make of this development? (85). Is it possible that our growing apathy for lengthy advertisements makes lengthy political deliberation less appealing? Is the short ad conditioning us to reject dialogue?

'The Rise of the Image, The Fall of the Word'

On pages 84-5 of “Image-Based Culture,” Sut Jhally discusses the speed at which images come at us in our visual society, noting that this “speed-up” replaces narrative and rational response with emotion and feeling. “The generalization of this speed/fragmentation strategy to the entire domain of the image culture may in fact mean that this is the form that thought increasingly is taking at the end of the twentieth century,” he says.

This had me searching for the name of a book I read for a graduate-level journalism class nearly 10 years ago: “The Rise of the Image, The Fall of the Word” by Mitchell Stephens and published in 1998. (The class was called Journalism and Cyberspace; the idea that they offered a class about this crazy little thing called the Internet in 2001 or 2002 says a lot about how the mindset has changed in less than a decade.) Stephens’ theory is that during this Information Revolution / change to networked communication, the print world will die off and be replaced by visual, moving images. He theorizes that we will become so accustomed to processing images, our brains will learn, grow and adjust and will offer us more options for communication, learning, education, entertainment, etc. (An oversimplifed summary, to be sure.)

While I disagree that the printed word will die I would agree that our brains are adjusting rapidly to processing visuals, and I think it’s only grown more obvious in the years since this book was published. Watch a TV show, a commercial or especially a music video from 20 years ago and it will feel slow and boring -- a sign, I think, that our brains have adapted to processing faster cuts and more changes. We’re evolving to learn how to gain more from the changes in our media technology.

And while I agree with Jhally that images can be loaded with emotion, I’m not certain the deluge of images has transformed our thought processes just yet.

I also thought I’d bring up this book in case it helps anyone with source material for their final papers ...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Representation in the networked age

All these articles discuss how marginalized gender/race/sexuality are represented by the media. I really like the framework presented in "Representing Gay Men on American Television." Clark (1969) identified four stages of media representation in social groups. These stages are: 1) nonrecognition, 2) ridicule, 3) protectors of existing social order, and 4) respect. I am wondering whether there may be changes to these chronological stages in the networked age? Perhaps some stages are skipped, or perhaps the speed transitioning from one to the next increases?

My argument is no, there is no change, especially if we look at popular culture. The most popular youtube channels, blogs, tweets tend to follow the media norms. Women are still "cut down to size" as Jean Kilbourne argues. This is despite the fact that there are numerous women in substantial power positions (although still arguably underrepresented). Meghan McCain gets more comments about her plus-size figure, or large breasts than her intelligence. Almost every "journalist" on the 24-hour news networks is attractive according to the norms of society. As for famous YouTube personalities, iJustine and the WiiFit girl top the lists. Why, because they are hot. You can look at obese people. They are not represented with respect on the internet. Why was the numa numa guy so popular, because we could ridicule him. Pruane = ridicule for being a nerd. Antoine Dobson = ridicule for black and gay.

The networked age may make these early stages worse and that much harder for society to reach the respect stage. At least with mass media we only see a couple examples, so maybe our impressions are not as concrete. But with the networked age, we can see 1000s of examples supporting these representations. And it does not matter that there are 1000s of positive examples, what matters is what the masses still see, and that is what is popular. What is popular is the ridicule.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Alabama Lesbian Paradise

Here is the URL to an article I found about the Alabama lesbian coop we discussed in class. Enjoy!


How can we even fathom all this television "hyper-reality?" (Loose response to Kelynne's post)

A concept that is constantly on my mind as I watch television and as technology develops is the actual reality of how we can even begin to picture ourselves in the hyper reality that is showcased throughout most television today. I noticed in Kelynne's post that she touched on hyper realism and the show "The Bachelor." Many of the activities and traveling the participants on the show experience are all experiences I would love to have, but it's just not fathomable! Yes, I would love to travel around the world, riding elephants, and flying via helicopter to my very own island, but where do finances and resources come into play? Never in my life will I be able to experience the things I see on television simply because it's not reality and the resources just aren't there. Is the fact that these activities and destinations are unattainable what makes people engage in them and come back each week to watch the show? Do we get pleasure out of watching other people pursue these extravagant "reality's" and does it make us feel happy for the actors/participants (though we might be bitter watching it because we know it's not a reality for us?)

This got me thinking about commercial content, and, advertisements in general as it pertains to technological developments. Whenever I see a new commercial for a smart phone or an Ipad, I can't help but think about how I wish I could experience all these fancy new machines, but it is simply not realistic for me. Now, I know this might just be because I am a student living off of loan money, and maybe "someday" I'll be able to use or at least experience some of these devices, but how can anyone ever keep up with the constant changes on any budget? Is this hyper-reality someone out there's actual reality? (Aside from millionaires and zillionaires, etc. of course) Does this make the advertising less affective for us and draw our attention away from the ads because we know it's unattainable and there is no way we could ever keep up anyways? How do companies keep consumers coming back? How much is materialism affecting what we consider reality and how much does it blur the lines between our reality and the hyper-reality of all the media we absorb?

YouTube and Television

Burgess and Green (2009) state, "YouTube, even more than television, is a particularly unstable object of study, marked by dynamic change (both in terms of videos and organization), a diversity of content (which moves with a different rhythm to television but likewise flows through, and often disappears from, the service), and a similar quotidian frequency, or 'everydayness'" (6). Relatedly, an interesting recent phenomenon to note are the dwindling audiences of cable news: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/business/2011/03/why-cable-news-shedding-viewers/35820/. What can we say about the networked nature of YouTube and its growing dominance over television as the most dominant form of visual communication? Also, what does it mean that some networks experience certain drops in viewership while the number of hits on any given YouTube upstart/viral video only continues to rise? It seems that things like ratings and viewership will soon give way to an alternative form of assessing popularity based on total number of views versus ratings.

Snooki and Express, give me a break please

Stuart Ewen’s article “…Images Without Bottom...” was particularly interesting reading to me this week mostly because it talked about “style”. This brought up a sore subject of my work meeting this past week. I work once a week at Express it’s a fashion store at the mall, and we had our annual “Spring Launch meeting” where we were informed about our new collection for spring and of course spring/summer dress code. This was not new information about not being able to wear shorts or short skirts but we were introduced to a new rule just born. Women’s shoulders should not be bare, meaning no more tube tops or spaghetti straps. Pretty much wear something over your spaghetti strap shirts or dresses that have thin straps. Can you imagine when it comes to style and working at Express how we all felt; where majority of our spring and summer clothes bare shoulder or more it was pretty controversial news to us all!

This is not all; it was controversial to all of us mostly because Snooki and Paula D from Jersey Shore show on MTV are hired by Express to do a fashion show, consequently representing our store and our brand. Now I don’t know if a lot of you know Express fashion and what kind of clothes we sell but if you check out the website here http://www.express.com/home.jsp and also check out what Snooki and Paula D usually look like on regular basis http://www.snookienicole.com/ you can judge it yourself of what I am talking about when it comes to Snooki and Paula D representing Express Fashion.

This could not have gone over well with many of the Express employees around the nation because of the way Snooki and Paula D portray “style” and the way Express is supposedly choosing to portray “style” by telling its employees we can’t wear shorts, short skirts or even show our bare shoulders. But they choose to hire Snooki and Paula D to represent the store that we are representing on daily basis in front of our customers. What kind of mixed messages are we getting here form our CEO of the company? I thought this quote from the article summed it up all too clearly for me to answer my own question. “In the world of style, ideas, activities, and commitments become ornaments, adding connotations and value to the garment while they are, simultaneously, eviscerated of meaning.” (20)

Entertainment: There is No Exit (Response to Chad)

In response to Chad’s question about whether or not there is "an exit to this world of entertainment, or is it just another trick for all of us marks to do the bidding of P.T. Barnum"...

In my mind, there is no going back from this world of entertainment. American culture has been forever changed by the advances of technology in the last 20 years. The speed of information and communication through the Internet, mobile phones, television, etc. has not made us less competent – just more impatient and selective.

I think we all want to be informed citizens when it comes to social and political issues, but we also want it made EASY for us and we demand to be entertained in the process. Our generation has been conditioned this way. (Thanks, MTV.) We’ve been forced to filter out what we deem as boring or unimportant due to the sheer volume of images and news we are exposed to everyday. It would take something drastic to halt the rate at which we are forced to process information. But not even Oprah can stop this crazy train we call networked media.

Our attention spans have been reduced to sound bites, tweets, and Insta-grams. We are a culture of shortcuts now. Why look up a word in the dictionary? There’s an app for that. Why would I write a check to help victims of Japan’s earthquake when I can text my donation instantly? Why buy a newspaper when I can get the “fun” news I want from Kathy and Hoda on the Today Show?

Even Charlie Sheen seems like he’s boiling down his personal meltdown to an entertainment spectacle… ranting on talk radio, YouTube, and Twitter and selling merchandise with his kooky musings on warlocks and tiger blood… And people (news outlets, bloggers, etc.) are eating it up!

As a former broadcasting student, I know that the emphasis is always on what you can SHOW. A story is not going to fly if it involves too much talking or thinking. (Just one of the many reasons I chose to forgo a career broadcast news.)

In the end, if the best way for the masses to learn and care about important issues is through various forms of “info-tainment” -- so be it. There is no exit from our celebrity-obsessed-24-hour-news-cycle world of entertainment, so we might as well go along for the ride.

Monday, March 14, 2011


From Ewen's "Images without Bottom":

"The viewer sits, watches, embedded in the finite terms of daily life. From this vantage point, the viewer is engaged in a relationship with style.  It is a relationship that offers a pledge, a pledge repeated across the panorama of the American consumer culture again and again, day in and day out. Everyday life in its details (clothes, house, routine objects, and activities) can, through the sorcery of style, be transformed without every saying so explicitly, the media of style offer to lift the viewer out of his or her life and place him or her in utopian netherworld where there are no conflicts, no needs unmet; where the ordinary is-by very nature- extraordinary."

Our readings got me thinking about this idea of hyper-realism and the consumer's experience "at the other end of the television" (as Ewen puts it). Television has the ability to expose us to behaviors and beliefs as to the everyday world is like and/or what it is "suppose" to be like. We experience what we see on the other end of the television as if it were reality, as if were were standing in the room with the individuals we see on the screen.  This ability of television to create this hyper-reality, blurs the lines between what we experience (and what we expect) in real life, and what we experience through the medium. 

This got me thinking about the Bachelor, and how this "reality" or "hyper-reality" is further perpetuated.  Are the experiences on the show "reality"? After all the individuals are experiencing real emotions, real feelings, real events. But the context of the show exploits unrealistic situations and environments that are pre-determined and dictated by a third party.  This situations on The Bachelor would not occur in "real" life, outside the context of the show.  The reality is changed by the mere presence of the television cameras and external players. And yet people expect such experiences (like what occurs on The Bachelor) to occur in their own lives; extravagant proposals, trips to exotic locations, perfect candlelit dates. 


"We see that style is about beautiful mouth-watering surfaces, but we see more.  Beyond displaying surfaces, the uninterrupted message of the television program is that style makes up a way of life, a utopian way of life marked by boundless wealth."

Image Event

I would be really interested to hear everyone's thoughts on the effectiveness of using image events as a protest strategy. Deluca's analysis provides dozens of fascinating examples of the implementation of unorthodox campaign strategies to gain public attention. However, the spectacle created can often detract from the actual message being expressed. What I found particularly interesting is Deluca's comment that it is possible to measure the success of image events by the backlash they inspire (6). I tried to find a link from an advertisement I witnessed last year, but it seems like it has been removed. Anyways, it was a campaign to end the procedure of "live gutting" where fish have their guts removed while they are still alive. The advertisement started with a woman burlesque singer performing in front of a small crowd in an old-time theater. Then, out of nowhere, this fisherman comes on stage, strikes her in the head with a mallet, and begins to clean her like a fish. Then a message comes on screen- "You wouldn't do this to a person, so why are we doing it to fish?" Obviously, it was an incredibly traumatic advertisement, and thus, perhaps inherently counter-productive. It is true that the Belgium animal rights group received a lot of attention, and even now one year later I still am able to clearly recall the campaign. However, the advertisement did not leave me with a good impression of the group or their message. So, is the image event a self-defeating strategy? Or, does it create space for more traditional groups to receive recognition? Which is more interesting, the fact that many movements for social change select such approaches? Or, that many times in today's mediated society it requires such measures to receive attention?

My Meager Contributions

First off I ran across an article that I thought was interesting for class.  It is from the Huffington Post and it speaks of how social networking sites have proved invaluable assets for those in Japan and across the world in light of the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami.  With this article in the back of our minds, which I found while reading various newspapers electronically at the coffee shop, and the contributions of Postman, Ewan, DeLuca, and Burgess & Green my question for class is where has the conflict of our cultural tensions led us to be as a society?

DeLuca argues that "the social world needs to be understood as the conflictual process of hegemony, where the cultural and ideological contest or negotiation among a variety of publics takes place" (p 21); and Burgess & Green appear to support this claim stating that there is an "increasingly complex relationship among producers and consumers in the creation of meaning, value, and agency" (p. 14).  So are we merely the drooling entertainment seeking drones of Postman's world, or are we the creative, innovative, and socially networked individuals capable of creating socially significant "image events" that can turn "rational" rhetorical theory on its head? With dramatic examples like that of the Hiroshi Matsuyama, who used twitter to open up his web studio survivors of the disaster, I tend to think the latter.

This way to the egress

So it's all about slick images. Attitude and Latitude. Style and Sensationalism.
Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth.
Are we being at best nudged, at worst tricked into what we believe? These readings would make it seem so. We are a people of style. A people sustained by entertainment. If it is not sensationalistic or entertaining, we turn away from the served dish. This is why the media cover these image events, be it Greenpeace or the Westboro Church. The reason it is news is because it is sensationalistic. We need to be entertained. We need these images to evoke emotions from us. Even in today's networked society, I doubt Fred Phelps could get the funding necessary to stage his disgusting protests without the media coverage. How easy it would be to essentially kill his hatred by simply not covering it. I applaud the newsroom here for not covering him, but you are the lone dissenter when even the Supreme Court covers it.
While I agree with much of what is discussed in these articles, I do not think it is quite as fatalistic as these authors make it seem, especially Postman. I just needed to grab your attention so you would read this far down :) Postman implies that media, due to its entertainment factor, has hijacked our religious, civic, and familiar duties. Perhaps it has, but I do not think that that means we are children of a lesser god. Maybe the fact that something is entertaining is a way to get more people to pay attention. Get more people involved in civic, religious and family duties. One quote in particular led me to believe that Postman has it wrong: "No one goes to a movie to find out about government policy or the latest scientific advances." I think many people do. How many documentaries are made? How many Academy Award winning movies (i.e. Hurt Locker) are about current government policy? How many Broadway musicals are about important societal issues (not counting Spider-Man)? How many people will read a popular press book about relationships as opposed to an academic journal article about the same thing. Perhaps the masses don't want to listen to CSPAN or read a journal article because it is boring and the language is often inaccessible. If we are a little entertaining, we may be able to get our point across to more people.
So is there an exit to this world of entertainment, or is it just another trick for all of us marks to do the bidding of P.T. Barnum?

Show Business - My dear Mr. Postman


I heard this story on the radio this morning and it made me think of Postman's analysis of tv as entertainment. An NPR exec was harangued last week because of hidden camera footage. After careful analysis of the full video enounter, NPR has a lot to say about how the video was edited to make for great entertainment that cost someone very dearly, even though he probably wasn't half as bad as this "journalist" made him out to be on his expose blog.

I think there are some grains of truth to Postman's article on the medium of tv and entertainment. We have probably seen a few too many of these "stories" breaking on the Internet. Probably because they make for excellent entertainment and the power of the web makes it easy for anyone to create this type of video. Many news blogs are mere reproduction of the news shows of the past, probably because people don't want to read blabber any more than they want to watch it.

One final note: I think we are still buying snake oil, tv may be free enterprise, but there isn't that much truth in advertising. Just ask someone who bought one of those kitchen gadgets the frumpy elderly red head sells on informercials...

Social media saving the world?

If anyone know how to leverage the power of mass media it is Greenpeace; and now that our society has progressed to a networked society, Greenpeace continues to make image events, they are now online and create a social movement within the social media sphere. Below is an interview CNN conducted with Greenpeace's Executive Director Kumi Naidoo on their attack of Nestle last year.

I think that this video expands on ideas that we discussed last class on the power of our networked society to mobilize groups in mass around a central idea. I think that a networked society has the ability to go father than any traditional media campaign because of the direct connection from image event to interested parties.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

'Image Politics' and image events

“Making Waves” brought to mind two current organizations that love to produce “image events”: PETA and the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas.

While PETA stages fairly frequent (perhaps 3-4 a year) protests/ “image events” in Lincoln, they rarely get news coverage. The protests often consist of women in stages of undress or supporters in chicken costumes protesting outside a restaurant, or other places of interest to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). However, in September, the Journal Star did run a photo of two PETA activists dressed in condom costumes dancing at 14th and O streets urging the spaying/neutering of pets. That picture stirred a debate in the newsroom about how to treat these sorts of image events -- the ones that we know are created specifically to draw attention and based on their frequency and blatant political message are relatively not newsworthy. The condom event was different from the organization’s usual sexualized (meaning, naked women) protests, and the message supporting spaying/neutering is more mainstream than its usual platforms. It also happened on one of the busiest intersections in the city. And while I don’t think we got a lot of reader protests about running the photo and indulging such a politicized image event, it did stir a newsroom debate. A result of this coverage, in my opinion, is that PETA will have to outdo itself to get attention from our photographers any time soon, because usually we observe this guide: Organizations like PETA thrive on image events. If we don’t pay attention to them -- and unless they’re exceptionally newsworthy and cause other types of news (counterprotests, car accidents, fights, etc.), we shouldn’t -- then they cease to be news and we won’t be exploited to promote their causes.

The Westboro church is at once a similar but different example. I’m assuming we’re all familiar with the church/hate group’s controversial protests of funerals, play productions and more to promote its, as Wikipedia diplomatically puts it, “extreme stance against homosexuality.” The church, like PETA, also uses image events to draw attention to its beliefs and causes, and generally, news organizations do their best to ignore it -- except when the church is the subject of a Supreme Court ruling or shows up in your town to protest a funeral or play.

The Journal Star newsroom receives a fax from Westboro whenever members will protest a funeral in the area. The press releases are full of violent, anti-gay rhetoric supporting the group’s belief that God celebrates these deaths because of U.S. tolerance for gay rights and many unrelated, illogical statements. When the church protested at the funeral for Robert Butler Jr., the shooter at Millard South High School who was from Lincoln, we mentioned the protesters in one paragraph in the news story of Butler’s funeral. This decision also was met with debate in the newsroom: Some feel to mention the protest only indulges an organization constantly seeking attention for its image events, while others felt it impossible to ignore these visible protests in a news story.

In any case, both of these organizations have perfected the art of the image event, even if they can’t control the press they receive for their works. I think Westboro also exemplifies an idea from the reading: That sometimes image events -- especially by radical groups -- help create identity among those in the dominant culture. Counterprotests against Westboro often crop up at the funerals they protest, including the Patriot Guard motorcycle group, personifying the idea that while we may differ in our beliefs on war, gay rights and other huge issues, the Westboro protests offer us a way to unite against their extremism.

And both organizations take to heart a quote on page 6 of “Image Politics”: “Smart and creative communication of the message is as important as the message itself.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


For next week's class, come prepared to talk about your potential paper topic. Remember, you have to complete the sentence 'The shift from mass communication to networked communication has changed culture by…' Have perhaps 2-3 minutes of explanation--key examples, possible arguments, etc and then we can brainstorm as a group about different ideas. We'll have probably half the class go next week, and the other half go the week after Spring Break...so if you're still searching for a topic, no sweat, we can wait a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What can we learn about media through Cohen’s understanding of consumerism?

What I really liked about the book was attempting to find the communication that was represented within the book.  When trying to understand this, one must look to the link between mass consumption within a mass public v. consumption in a segmented public.  Within the mass public consumption is integrated into the ideals of abundance, democratic political freedom, and prosperity.  However within a segmented market, consumption is also idealized into the ideals of democracy (more involvement and less cutthroat competition) (298) and perception of individualism. But most significantly in the segmented culture, we can see the tailoring of messages to individuals (eg Kennedy’s 1960 campaign, 366). 

On a larger level, we can see that mass media has shifted from the ideal of one message to all (mass consumption) to a message that can be tailored to one individual or a group of individuals (segmented consumption).  I guess my larger point is that when Cohen says market segmentation gave capitalists and rebels alike possessed a shared interest in using consumer markets to strengthen, not break down, the boundaries between social groups, this contributes to a more fragmented America (331), she hits the nail on the head.  While the ideal of a mass consumed message that “rings true” to the “public” is romantic; in reality, our society is endlessly fragmented and modern media operates to “narrowcast,” or target programs at demographically specific audiences (302). What this means is that in contemporary society we can live in multiple “segments,” and in doing so, we serve as the links of the networked society.

The Suburbs and Punk

My version of A Consumers' Republic is electronic and doesn't come coded with page numbers (ugh), so I apologize if these quotations aren't easy to find.

I also gravitated toward Chapter 5. I grew up in miserable suburbia outside of Washington D.C., and many of Cohen's attributions to its character are accurate: boredom, isolation, and socioeconomic stratification are the most prominent, direct, and observable. Specifically, I latched onto the notion of increasing stratification from within the stratospheres, i.e. the most affluent moving into even more affluent suburbs, and the affect that had on the demographics of left-behind neighborhoods: "Whites left because they feared living near blacks, whom they considered culturally different and in some vague way beacons of greater poverty and crime."

One of the hallmarks of my suburban experience were the profligate displays of youthful rebellion, namely punks or metal-heads or young people who were otherwise guided by some semblance of a subculture, usually tied to music. Chuang & Hart (2008) write that the reason subcultures have become so prominent in the suburbs is because they convey "the feelings of suburban punks who perceived their parents as hypocritical and thereby yearned for more meaning than their suburban lives appeared to provide" (p. 183). In fact, the themes that tend to unify punks, namely "boredome of middle-class life and ideals, self-marginalization, rebellion against order, search for authenticity, and anticorporate attitudes," (p. 185) are similar to those that bored and rebellious suburban youth conglomerate around as well, such as "a need for meaning rather than affluence, struggle against conformity and hypocrisy, and isolation" (p. 185). It would seem that the racial tensions produced by increased stratification also result in social fracturing from within the demographics.

Our own Dr. Ron Lee has also written about the suburbs and the suburban mythos. Below are the references:

Chuang, L. M., & Hart, J. P. (2008). Suburban American Punks and the Musical Rhetoric of Green Day's “Jesus of Suburbia”. [Article]. Communication Studies, 59(3), 183-201. doi: 10.1080/10510970802257499

Clasen, P., & Lee, R. (2006). Teaching in a Sanitized World: An Exploration of the Suburban Scene in Public Communication Pedagogy. [Article]. Communication Education, 55(4), 438-463. doi: 10.1080/03634520600917616